Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast’s launch in Europe – having launched in Japan in late ’98 and in the US on the 9th of September 1999.
Being in the know and having already played on a Japanese Dreamcast in 1998 (which I talk about here, amongst other things), I wasn’t particularly hyped for the UK launch. I’m not sure how much of a part Sega’s own marketing played in that; I recall seeing very underwhelming cinema ads ahead of launch, featuring no game footage and a distinct underplaying of the Sega name – burned by the relative failure of the Saturn, it seems that Sega went all out to minimise references to their brand as much as they could. What it did feature was Robbie Williams on the soundtrack and the assurance that 6 billion players would be involved. In hindsight, that seems a tad optimistic – but the point was that the Dreamcast was the first console you could connect online, straight out of the box, theoretically to anyone in the world.
Still, the muddy messaging and non-existent footage did hurt the console’s chances of success I think. What’s even more baffling is that Dreamcast games looked so advanced in comparison to the PlayStation and N64 at the time; anyone who saw one in action was completely blown away. Talking of the console’s chances of success, the staggered worldwide launch really didn’t help – with Sony’s PlayStation 2 less than a year away in Europe at the time of Dreamcast’s EU launch. That said, the Western launch of Sega’s console was seen as successful at the time; it’s only with hindsight, when comparing it to the launch of Sony’s competitor a year later, that the sales figures seemed somewhat underwhelming.
In any case, I ended up not buying one on launch day, but I kept seeing previews and reviews of games in the multi-format magazines I constantly had my nose in – and it didn’t take long for me to cave. I purchased mine from Game on Oxford Street in London on payday, at the end of October 1999. I got two games with it – true to form, I opted for the quirkier looking underdog titles, rather than the heavy hitters – Acclaim’s TrickStyle and Sega’s own Toy Commander, developed by No Cliché, a French development team bought by Sega. I still have a soft spot for both games.
TrickStyle was a WipEout-on-hoverboards racing game with some seriously impressive visual design for its time and, as you’d probably expect, a fantastic soundtrack (which was composed by music producer Kurtis Mantronik). I seem to remember it being incredibly difficult, but that didn’t stop me playing. In the course of researching this article, I discovered it’s actually available on Steam – so I’ll definitely be trying it out again at some point!
Toy Commander’s difficulty level was also pretty high, which felt somewhat at odds with its colourful and playful presentation. It was a great game that made excellent use of the fact that you controlled toy vehicles – its sense of scale and the design of the levels around different areas of the house was brilliantly done (and despite its difficulty, I still managed to complete it!).
Over the coming months – and next few years – I played and enjoyed countless Dreamcast titles. I played online games for the very first time with Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online, raised Chaos in Sonic Adventure and terrifyingly knowledgeable aquatic creatures who knew far too much about me in Seaman. I tried in vain to save the world in the punishingly difficult Ecco: Defender of the Future. I got my first taste of what is still one of my favourite games ever with Rez, had a crazy amount of fun blasting zombies in The House of the Dead 2 and spent a ridiculous amount of time driving around a small open world area to the sounds of The Offspring in Crazy Taxi. I’ve spoken before about the fun I had with maracas in the insane rhythm game Samba de Amigo, of course.
Despite its short lifespan, the Dreamcast is a machine that many people have a huge amount of affection for. It had a wonderful games library and some of the best arcade ports ever seen, from a time when arcades were still a place to go and experience what felt like the future of gaming. Though competitors and a lack of third party support from some real industry heavy hitters sealed its fate, it remains a beloved console to this day – 20 years on from its European launch. Happy Anniversary Dreamcast – we miss you.
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